Santa Barbara Commission Recommends Creation of Independent Police Monitor Position | Local News

Gabe Escobedo was raised in a single-parent home with concerns about the police. His father spent most of his young life incarcerated.

“Growing up, I didn’t have a positive relationship with police,” Escobedo said. “Interacting with police, and anything that involved the criminal justice system, was never easy.”

But now, as chair of Santa Barbara’s Community Formation Commission, he is beginning to see things differently — largely thanks to his relationship with police Lt. Shawn Hill.

The first time he was set to meet with Lt. Hill to talk about a proposed Civilian Review Board, Escobedo said he had a lot of anxiety about being alone with someone with a gun, in a uniform and with the potential that they might be hostile.

“Lt. Hill came in regular clothes, in a tie and a shirt, and for me, that was a big thing because I went into that situation with a lot of anxiety,” Escobedo said. “The fact that he did that, and we were able to have conversations, did a lot to push me, and gave me confidence.”

It’s that type of unity and understanding that Escobedo hopes a Civilian Review Board will create for all members of the community.

“My hope is that what we offered in this model does that for parts of the community that felt the exact same way that I do,” Escobedo said.

Escobedo and members of the Community Formation Commission presented the findings and their recommendations to the Santa Barbara City Council in a special meeting on Friday afternoon. The gathering took place at the David Gebhard Meeting Room, 630 Garden St., in somewhat of a neutral spot, and away from where the council normally meets at City Hall.

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Gabe Escobedo, chair of the Community Formation Commission, speaks at Friday’s meeting about the plans for a Civilian Oversight Board.

The commission has met for more than a year, gathering data, talking with a consultant and meeting with members of the community, including law enforcement, to make a recommendation on the shape, focus and goals of a Civilian Oversight Board.

The commission recommended creating an independent police monitor position that, among other things, would receive complaints, engage with the public and make improvements to policing strategies. The monitor would get paid $289,000, at an executive level. In addition, there would be $2,500 set aside for community outreach activities, $10,800 for stipends for oversight board members and $5,000 for annual training, for a total of $307,500.

The commission made two other recommendations, including a less expensive one in which the police monitor would earn $207,000 and serve at a management level. A third scenario proposed that the monitor position be an independent contractor, at a cost of $130,000.

The Civilian Oversight Board would oversee the monitor position and ensure that law enforcement would receive a variety of training on topics such as the importance of equity, history of race and various Santa Barbara cultures.

For 20 days in March, the commission put out a survey and received 1,040 responses.

The demand for a Civilian Oversight Board was sparked by Healing Justice Santa Barbara, after the murder of George Floyd at the hands of a white cop in Minnesota.

Santa Barbara Police Chief Barney Melekian has been supportive of a Civilian Oversight Board, as have many in the Police Department. But they have taken issue with how much power the board will have. They say Santa Barbara is safe and has a good Police Department and that the call for an oversight board was in response to issues nationally, not locally.

“I love this committee,” retired police officer Greg Hons said. “I think it is a great committee.”

He said they did a lot of work, but then backpedaled in his praise. 

“A lot of work doesn’t mean that you’ve identified a problem,” Hons said. “A lot of work shows that you guys identified that there wasn’t a problem. This is a solution looking for a problem.”

The council members did not vote or take any action on the proposals. The issue will be decided at a later meeting.

Most of the council members were supportive of the concept of a commission. 

“I only in my life have had extremely positive interactions with police,” Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon said. “I am a white woman. I have only the perspective of police as my true heroes.”

Still, she said, she welcomes an oversight board.

“I am not afraid that oversight is going to expose some dark underbelly of our Police Department,” Sneddon said. “I think it is going to do the opposite. I think it is going to lift us all up and make us all proud.”

Councilman Oscar Gutierrez was optimistic and also acknowledged the department’s positive role in the community.

“We’re going to find a way to make this work,” Gutierrez said. “It may not be the way that you exactly proposed to us today, but we’ll do something.”

Mayor Randy Rowse said he was impressed with the work the commission had completed. Still, he said he has mixed feelings. 

“I’m not sure that it’s really scaled for Santa Barbara,” Rowse said. “I think it is scaled for policing in general.”

He said the Santa Barbara Police Department is far more diverse than the overall community. In his experience, he said, most people support law enforcement. 

“Surveys not withstanding, our community really appreciates our cops,” Rowse said. “In no point in time in the 40 years I was in business downtown did I ever hear that we had too many cops.”

Rowse said law enforcement is not afraid of oversight.

“This is going to come to a good end,” Rowse said, “although I am not sure exactly what that is going to look like.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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